Ambassador Degnan’s Remarks at Peace Corps Swearing in Ceremony
Question about the event
Ambassador Degnan: This is a day we have been looking forward to for a long time. We are going to be swearing in 16 new Peace Corps volunteers. These volunteers were ready to come to Georgia two years ago before COVID made us have to pause the program. They have been working very hard to learn Georgian and to get ready to go to their new homes, and to their new families in Georgian communities; to teach English and to work with young Georgians on their projects and ideas on how to improve their communities. This is a big day, and we are very excited to swear in our Peace Corps volunteers. Peace Corps has been here in Georgia for many years, and it has been one of the strongest links between the United States and Georgia. Everywhere I have traveled around Georgia I have seen what an impact the Peace Corps volunteers have made and what lifelong friendships they have made with Georgian families and Georgian students. I am sure that is going to continue with our new group that we are swearing in today.
Question about the possibility of direct flights between the U.S. and Georgia, and visa-free regime
Ambassador Degnan: We have been working to try to set up direct flights between the United States and Georgia for several years. This is a commercial decision that airlines need to agree to. We, of course, will be very supportive of this, and I think the government of Georgia will be as well.
I understand why Georgians have some concerns about the restoration of direct flights between Moscow and Georgia. Again, I think the question there is Why is Putin giving this “gift” to Georgia now? I think most Georgians would be much happier to have Putin withdraw Russian forces from Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, fulfill Russia’s obligations under the ceasefire agreement, and reverse recognition of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali. That would be a real gesture that would be meaningful to Georgians. Putin does not give anything for free; so, I think it is very important to question why is he giving this instead of something that would be truly meaningful to Georgia, which would be to reverse recognition of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali and fulfill Russia’s obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement.
Q-n about some of the Russian airline companies allowed flying to Georgia, and safety issues of the planes that are sanctioned, the difference between no wand 2019 when the U.S. was supporting the restoration of Russian flights to Georgia
Ambassador Degnan: The difference between now and 2019 is that Russia has invaded Ukraine further since Crimea, and has launched a brutal, bloody war against Ukrainian citizens, against children, schools , hospitals, apartment buildings. This is an unprecedented invasion by Russia of a neighbor in an effort to eliminate Ukrainians of their identity and sovereignty. That is a major development since 2019. Why anyone would welcome a gesture, a gift from a country that is a brutal aggressor, I don’t know. I think that is a very important question to ask. I have not seen the information about which airlines they have approved to come in. It is important to determine if they are sanctioned airlines. There are also safety considerations. If these are sanctioned aircraft that don’t have the parts or have not been properly maintained – those are legitimate safety concerns that have to be taken into consideration.